Universität Wien International Conference ON MODERNITY, December 11-14, 2009

Bolívar Echeverría “Blanquitud”. Considerations on racism as a specifically modern phenomenon The general tendency throughout history – understood as a history of scarcity- is to perceive otherness as animosity. Throughout “pre-history” -as implied by Marxall human communities perceive alterity as an open hostility towards their selfness. People who coexist in the same territory with those who are residents, need only to ground themselves firmly in their identity, in order to awaken in them a feeling of menace. The other, the “barbarian” becomes an enemy, some one that is hateful. Through this xenophobia or hatred of the foreign, the other appears as a dangerous human being, that must be kept apart, neutralized, subjugated or eventually destroyed. It would not be an exaggeration to say that all pre-modern genocides have their origin in this perception. Otherness appears as hostility only when and where a community or collective subject chooses to understand and practice its self-assertion as an act of selfpreservation or selbsterhaltung (as Horkheimer called it), instead of realizing it as a self-opening or selbstpreisgabe . To save and protect identity as an object that might disappear -instead of bringing it into play as an event that could be revitalized and strengthened it is confrontation with other identities- is of course a suicidal strategy; the same steps leading to self-preservation can drive as well to erosion, if time is kept in mind; or to decomposition, if the self critical consistency of identity is taken into account. Nevertheless it is a strategy that seems to be inevitable under the conditions of scarcity. Every community understands the singularity of its own selfness as the reason why the gods select it as a preferred or “chosen people”, superior to the others. Throughout history, the selfness and otherness of a singular or a collective individual have been detected or recognized according to many criteria, some of

) would be the necessary manifestation of a black soul. Thus. The specific determination of selfness and otherness as a race emerges when human animal features begin to be perceived in a consolidated unity as the signifier of an ethic substance that would be its signified. black bodily features (black skin. some others concentate on social characteristics. a human behaviour would be racist behaviour when it addresses other people through the filter of a previous determination that qualifies its appearance as ethically meaningful. etc. One of these combined criteria sets identity and alterity in terms of race. each trying to overcome the others and increase his money-wealth on the basis of a higher valueproductivity of the work incorporated in his products. the natural and the ethic. Actually. The great variety of definitions of selfness and the consequently innumerable possibilities of otherness that exist spontaneously in the western world undergo the homogenizing action of a pragmatic definition of identity or selfness that comes from the everyday praxis of exchange of equivalents. The threatening presence of otherness impresses a negative mark on the natural features of other people’s bodies. a “black soul” would belong only to a body with black features. The racial understanding of human selfness and otherness should be considered as a specific phenomenon of protomodern and modern times. and conversely.them focus on animal or natural features. According to this definition. but . to be a human being is contingent on association to a particular abstract community. as the visible side of an indivisible conjunction of expression and content. like language or éthos. or engagement with other people is seldom friendly. Consequently. the community of private proprietors or men engaged in the market-concurrence. a universalism that Christian religion promoted implacably for more than thousand years in western society. while still others combine both perspectives. Racist treatment of. it begins as a complement to the abstract universalism required of human behaviour by the mercantile circulation of products or goods. it’s mostly hostile. It is important here to remember that higher value-productivity of value of course means the capacity of work to produce more or better goods or “values in use”. Universalism and racism emerge together. for instance. like bodily constitution or skin colour.

The new definition of identity as opposed to alterity is misconceived and interpreted simply as a more civilized and therefore almost harmless version of the archaic definition of the proper as opposed to the strange or the civilized to the barbarian. the otherness of people that are no non-functional to the subordination of traditional selfness to the new mercantile identity. that goes beyond all other identities and according to which no one has to be an “other”.only if these “values in use” are bearer or carrier of economic value. but already one of its components. but as probably non-human beings. A radical change has taken place: a re-definition of selfness and otherness. this it is a change that public opinion systematically denies. as aliens. a specifically “racial otherness”. a specific “mercantile appearance” that is not only a manifestation of value-productivity. The KKK lynching of blacks in the US as well as the systematic mass elimination of jews and gypsies in nazi Europe are some of the recycled modern relapses of the old type of . It is an abstract identity. Modern racism is eclipsed by remainings of the old hatred to foreigners. people blind or insensitive to the specifically “human” goal: that of value-productivity. a form of production and consumption that is already subject to the circulation of goods as an exchange of merchandises or equi-valent things. the devastating actual realization of modern racist definition of the other is not acknowledged and treated as a genocidal practice. Then it is evident that a new sort of otherness has emerged. It is an ethic otherness that becomes distinguishable in the appearence or aspect that comes with the refusal of the effects of mercantile refunctionalization on the corporeal (animal) features of human beings. Mercantile identity refunctionalizes traditional. Thus mercantile behaviour necessarily requires an appearance of its own. unless he refuses the “invitation” to belong to the abstract community of private proprietors. Mostly “hidden” in the “Third world”. People belonging to “an other race” are now considered not only as barbarians (dissimilar to the people of the own community and unfamiliar with their language and customs). apparently inclusive and open to all humans. Valueproductivity as the ultimate goal of human labour working process and human life belongs to communities where social activity is already organised around a mercantile economy. archaic identities to such a degree that they become unrecognizable to previous generations. However.

which is the basis of modern racism. accompanied the enterprise of the Conquista. cannot be transformed into a “new”. This may be considered the first appearance of a new modern perception of selfness and otherness. a “cristiano castizo”.genocides or archaic practices of aggressive xenophobia. modern Christian. that is to say a Spanish Christian. And he cannot. in the Spain of the Conquistadores. to minimize the “natural” or structural racist practices of everyday social behaviour and of established politics in the capitalistic modernity. a man who belongs to his own enterprise. whether they were complete or only partially humans. like Cortés or Pizarro. specifically modern racism reaches its maturity only two centuries later. Christian entrepreneurial ethics and European “blood purity” are linked together. Karl Marx interprets this fact of economic history using his theory of “formal” and “real subsumption” of the natural reproductions-process of social wealth and of society itself under the abstract economic reproductions- . the modern man. into a man of action. However. mercantile social life had become a specific capitalistic-mercantile social life or. when capitalism had overflowed the sphere of circulation of the economy and had invaded its sphere of production. although he may behave as an exemplary Christian. enacted by the “culture industry” of capitalist modernity as spectacular negative feats or “prowesses”. is trying to found or ground his devastating presence in America on a demonstration of the disfunctionality of indigenous people regarding a re-construction of the world that is manifestly supported by God. Contrary to what the Franciscan evangelizers or pater Las Casas may think. because ultimately a new Christian can only be a modification or a new version of an “old Christian”. like Fernand Braudel says. when. An open and conceptually very rich anthropologic-theological discussion about the question of whether Indians had a soul. “de casta” or “de sangre”. It is not difficult to notice that a self-justifying intention is at work beneath the discursive level of this discussion. conceal and forget the silent but very effective genocidal activity of specific modern racism. contribute in our time to hide. For the first time in history. The “new man”. an Indian cannot become fully Christian. Yesterday and today antiblack and anti-Jewish actions. after the Industrial Revolution. The first historical appearing of specifically modern racism can be found in Spain’s XVIth Century.

It does this according to its own capitalist “project”. In fact. in order to do so. and Marx explains how different it is for social life. by market dynamics. to follow the rules that derive from the pursuit of the goal of capital accumulation. The capitalist mode of production fashions or pieces together a peculiar type of human being. comes from within itself. The homo capitalisticus is the human being that has followed the imperative demanding or “calling” coming from capital. precisely that gravitation identified by Max Weber as the “spirit of capitalism” (der geist vom kapitalismus). a project that pursues the total subordination of social life under the never satisfied demand of economic value. it rebuilds not only the means of production and their technical consistency. when it is effectually a mode of production. develops a peculiar éthos. the valorization (verwertung) of economic value. according to its needs of suitable caretakers of capitalist wealth. “real subsumption” means that the action of these compelling force. who has completely interiorized the mercantile trend to surplus-value productivity. and living in capitalism means living for capitalism. “formal subsumption” means that the behaviour of the economy is compelled only from outside of the productionsprocess. has substituted the concrete goals of the natural reproduction process of social wealth. but also the subject of production. therefore. that has subordinated himself to the gravitation of capital on the human subject of the reproduction-process. If there is no alternative to the capitalist form of modern life. if civilization and capitalist civilization are the same. In contrast. to increase its magnitude. then Max Weber is right: modern man is the human being that obeys the calling of the “spirit of capitalism” and who. objectivated in the technical consistency of the production-process. When the capitalist behaviour is “real” and not merely “formal”. that the capitalist goal. when the subordination to capitals selfreproduction affects only “formally” the labour-process or when it has already become a “real” subordination. For him living in capitalism and living for capitalism are the same. that is. a down to earth or “realistic” éthos that establishes some .process of capital. opfer). dependence. this is a human being characterized mainly by a way of life founded on a productivistic self-repression (entsagung. Subsumption means subordination.

of modernity. even “nature” can be replaced by a near perfect substitute. for many modern human beings.has not been necessarily the same as to live for capitalism. The project of a capitalist modernity that was born in Europe came to fruition only in (north-) America. But Max Weber can be wrong. other strategies of behaviour. all of them assert themselves as self-critical alternative proposals of a way of life within the boundaries of capitalist modernity. all of them. other ways to live in the capitalist modern world that develop themselves in the praxis under the presumption that some other mode of production. Thus. contest the monopolistic position of the “realistic” or “protestant” éthos in the capitalist modernity. different from the capitalist mode of production. From the margins of normal life. The capitalist mode of production achieves this total subordination only with the “americanisation” –the “nord-americanisation”.between himself and the world’s capitalist structure. for this modern people capitalism does not represent “the best of all possible modernities”. may sustain a better form of modern life. in one way or another. For him the “protestant ethics” is the Christian practical manifestation of this éthos. like in our days. subtly dysfunctional in relation to it. created by capital itself. It could not be completed in Europe because of the strong and multiple resistances to it coming mainly from other pre-existing civilising projects. to live in capitalism –something that is inevitable in capitalistic modernity. “baroque”. “Romantic”. The concrete historical experience that the “protestant or realistic éthos” had to withstand during its growth and expansion in northern Europe consolidated in a strong affinity and preference for the ethnic and ethic features of people living in that geographical region. the .sort of harmony – Nietzsche would say a “nihilistic” harmony. even enlightet (aufklärerisch) or “neoclassical” éthe –to use elegant terminology. when.emerge in the most different situations throughout the history of modernity. after that historical experience. There are other éthe. in our times. In fact. Max Weber’s description of the modern type of man becomes plausible only in a situation where the subsumtion or subordination of “natural” or concrete human life under the capitalist self-increasing process of economic value has been completed.

They are hateful because they profit from these deception and explain this profit as a gods gift or mercy to them for being his chosen people. mercantile life. but only when it is intertwined with or tightly linked to a diffuse or sublimated set of ethnic-ethic features. not her whiteness. precisely there where “heimatlosigkeit”. nazi politics . characterized by its functionality to the capitalistic mode of reproduction.disposition of a person to be “realistic” or to live for capitalism. The totalitarian society that post-liberal capitalism builds in our days in substitution of the traditional liberal society has done already a considerable step with the instalment of whithey race in the role of “human race”.” Against all evidence. that is. “They hide or disguise communal property (in the form of mutual help) as private property. of a person (singular as well as collective). or he. The “genuine” private proprietor in European western society modern explains this way his modern hate of the other: “The Jews cheat”. but whose recognition marks in the concrete world are nevertheless borrowed from a particular ethnic-ethic identity. the “whiteyness”. because it is a subtle combination of both. productivistic self-repression alone. only light particularized universalism of whiteyness has been an unimprovable recourse of the expansionistic trend of capital accumulation. The open and brutal hate to the other as a barbarian works as a disguise of the hidden and discreet hate to the other as a non-whitey person. the absence of community. The “whithey identity” is an abstract-universal identity. belongs or is bound in some measure to a peculiar race. but her “whiteyness” (to borrow the title of Fassbinder’s film). Puritan Christian behaviour. or ethnic-white identity marks alone are not enough to characterize “whiteyness”. he means. The practice of modern racism is usually hybrid. can only be effective if. That is what happened in nazi Germany and its paradigmatic practice of modern racism. all the success of jewish people in modern. The abstract. originally belonging to north European peoples. consists on his or her surplusvalue-productivitistic capacity. that is. they protect or preserve the nerve of their own “heimat”. it is modern and at the same time archaic. in addition. Only if she. not the blancura. must be the rule. she partakes to some extent of those ethnic and ethical features in one way or another. The “blanquitud”. the life in community. the “whitey” race: if she partakes of the “blanquitud”.

As Carl Amery wrote about “Hitler as a precursor” he had in mind not only the spectacular killing of hundreds of . The extermination (ausrottung) of the jews would be so only a justified retaliation (rache) of the offended german people against a barbarian enemy. from America to China. becomes real in normal life of modern society through a discriminating practice whose hate to the other. or refuse to accept that destiny: between evidently “born winners” and undeniably “losers by birth”. the modern racism. Apparently harmless. the “non-whiteys” may become a dispensable population (“ballastgewicht”. Springing to another. by arguing that they are a volk. as we kann see it now especially in the USA. ready to be eliminated if the circumstances require. the non-whitey. subjects of a “final solution” (endlösung) or a merciful “triage” (to use a word of R. in critical situations. the undeniable “dysfunctionals” that can not. it is necessary to develop a transnational perspective of social and historical problems. and in this perspective. as the Nazis used tu say). The racism defined in relation to whiteyness. premodern sort of argumentation. Whereas. the Nazis pretend to show and prove why the jews are hatefull. those who are evidently “realists”. Modern racism attends to the difference between. It is therefore understandable that in the affluent society of neo-liberal and globalized capitalism. tried with considerable results to adopt the whithey race. and “globalized” by the accumulations-process of capital. the data available allow to speak of a peculiar “ordinary genocide” that is implied in this modern discriminating practice. the hate of the non-whitey or non-human. on the one hand. those who accept and interiorize the destiny of the homo capitalisticus. many “born losers”. of distrust and suspicious fear.doesn’t acknowledge any whiteyness to the Jews. In a world determined by the planetarian functioning of productive forces. when success seemed to be a reachable goal. many non-whiteys. And “non-human” means dispensable. the jewish people. both in the first and in the third world. remains generally in the stage of scorn or contempt. and as such they have done great damage to the german volk. Rorty). this radical discrimination condemn as no-human (as un-menschen) everyone who has not found the way to success and to the correct appearance of success. The old hate of the foreign as instrument of the new. and on the other.

but also this new. the killing of migrant Mexican and latin workers on the borderline between the USA and Mexico. Jahrhunderts? Luchterhand 1998. Amery. Richard. Unesco. Hitler als Vorläufer. . Carl. mostly in the Third world. Paris 1996. Rorty. ¿Quiénes somos? Universalismo moral y triage económico. Revista de Occidente. for instance.thousands (like in Rwanda in1994). like. discreet every day masskilling that take place in our times. Auschwitz – der Beginn des 20.

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